Coming at the end of a period of unprecedented self-examination, this will lift Bath's spirits, though their coach, Andy Robinson, was quick to put the win into context. "It was a great game of rugby," Robinson said. "Towards the end I looked up at the gods and thought we could still lose it. When Sale got back in the game in the closing minutes, it could still have gone either way. But, pleased as I am, it's only one victory."
Robinson has every reason to be grateful for the points, which lift the pressure off him for the time being at least. But he will reflect on how his team failed to close the game down when they were 32-18 ahead. In days past, Bath not only possessed the talent to win games, but had players who could be relied on to ensure they had no chance of losing when they were so far in front. In fact, Bath gave Sale two chances to catch up, having been 14-3 ahead after 19 minutes.
But Sale had no reason to complain after they allowed Mike Catt the freedom of their 22-metre area twice in the opening period. Having missed with a simple penalty, Catt then sliced through a static Sale midfield for a try under the posts which he also converted.
Within a minute of Howarth banging over a penalty, Catt made another scything break and, although Richard Smith pulled him down, Dave Hilton was on hand to touch down. Catt converted and Bath's star was in the ascendant.
Sale responded by completing their best move of the evening, sending Steve Hanley into the left corner. After a 42-metre penalty from Perry, Matt Moore was sent into the other corner by Chris Yates. Howarth missed the conversion, but finished the half with a penalty, so Sale turned round 18-17 ahead.
The lead was short-lived. Catt was the catalyst for Bath's third try, which went to Jeremy Guscott. Catt converted, Matt Perry kicked his second penalty and then went 14 points up when Adedayo Adebayo touched down. Surely Bath could not lose from that position?
But a second try by Moore and another from the replacement Williamson, and Sale were right back in the game at 32-30. Bath somehow denied them in a frantic finale to present Robinson with a win as sweet as any he will experience this season.
Sale: Tries Hanley, Moore 2, Williamson. Conversions Howarth 2. Penalties Howarth 2. Bath: Tries Hilton, Catt, Guscott, Adebayo. Conversions: Catt 3. Penalties: Perry 2.
Sale: J Mallinder (capt, J Baxendell, 61); M Moore, B-J Mather, C Yates, S Hanley; S Howarth, R Smith; P Smith (D Williamson, 56), S Diamond (P Greening, 51), D Bell, S Raiwalui, C Murphy, D O'Cuinneagain (P Anglesea, 59), A Sanderson, J Machacek.
Bath: M Perry; I Balshaw, K Maggs, J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt (I Evans, 76), G Cooper; D Hilton (K Yates, 52), M Regan, V Ubogu, M Haag, S Borthwick, R Webster (capt, B Sturnham, h-t), E Peters (R Earnshaw, 15), D Lyle.
Referee: S Lander (Wirrall).Reuse content